A few weeks ago we showed you the cover of a debut novel called The Strings of Murder here on Crime Fiction Lover. But on top of the interesting cover design, the book’s got quite a story behind it. It’s the first novel for Mexican author Oscar de Muriel, but instead of featuring an exotic Latin American setting, it all takes place in Scotland. What’s more, its author’s creativity stretches well beyond writing a Holmesian-style mystery in a second tongue – he’s also an accomplished violinist and the young author’s instrument features in his first crime novel. We had to know more so we invited him over to sit on the CFL sofa…
First of all, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up in the UK writing crime stories?
I moved to Manchester to do a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and after a complex chain of events I ended up working in a water treatment firm in Lancashire. I’ve been writing since I was 10 or 11, trying out several genres including sic-fi, but then chemistry proved very useful for coming up with untraceable ways to kill off my characters.
You must be the first Mexican crime author whose debut book begins with an account of a coach ride to Dundee in 1883. What made you choose the Scottish setting and the 1880s?
Well, there are the adventures of Hector Belascoarán Shayne, but I think he only made it as far as Madrid…
I love Scotland – the landscapes, the music, the history – and I must have been there a million times. It’s simply a perfect setting for a mystery book, with the rain, the fog and the architecture. I am surprised Victorian Edinburgh hasn’t been explored much more in crime novels – everyone stays in London.
I always wanted to have a very rational character fighting a very eccentric one, so the Victorian era was a natural background. You had all the new scientific ideas of the industrial revolution clashing with spiritualism and superstition.
Can you give us a little introduction to Inspector Ian Frey and Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray?
I love how different they are. Frey is a smart but snobby upper-class Londoner, very much in love with his fine suits and cigars. McGray is a scruffy, eccentric Scot, with a tragic past that has obsessed him with the occult. They can only clash and they hate having to work together, but the circumstances force them to, and I truly enjoyed writing all the banter that goes on between them.
Tell us about your love of violins and how they came to be a motif in The Strings of Murder, with a paranormal angle? What will classical music lovers enjoy about the book?
I’ve played the violin for years, and I still remember when my teacher first told me about the legend of the Devil’s Trill Sonata. I listened to that piece and was immediately fascinated by the music and its story. I spent almost 10 years craving to write a novel about it, but couldn’t find a suitable plot until I came up with Frey and Nine-Nails. I knew I had the perfect first case for them.
The novel has a lot of details that musicians, particularly violinists, will relate to, like getting a rash on your neck after playing too much!
And more importantly than that, what do you hope crime fiction lovers will love about it?
This is a quirky story. You can find a gory death immediately followed by a slapstick joke, and then all these elements you wouldn’t expect in a single book – the violin, the period manners, the English versus Scottish slandering, and I am particularly fond of Nine-Nails’ very sad backstory.
There’s a Holmesian feel to the book. Which authors inspired you and what kind of tone and atmosphere were you going for? Is it done in homage, pastiche, or something new?
I spent the greater part of my teens reading Victorian gothic books: Dracula (still quite scary despite its age), Edgar Allan Poe, the Sherlock stories, et cetera. I love the mystery and the gloomy atmospheres they create, and although I tried to mimic them I also wanted a lighter, sharper prose. I decided to narrate the book from Frey’s point of view and I loved creating his voice. He is, of course, very Victorian and obsessed with manners and protocol, and he describes everything and everyone without forgiveness.
What’s next for you?
I’m happily writing Frey and McGray’s second case, and jotting down very exciting ideas for a third one. I’ve plotted nine cases in total, and although that may not be the final number it would be very cool to give Nine-Nails nine books.
The Strings of Murder is released 12 February, by Penguin. Watch for our review soon.